Evolution of the Canon 5D Camera – How Much better is the 5DMKIII in low light / high ISO?

I have the new Canon 5D MKIII and I am very pleased with it, but how much better is it in low light and high ISO conditions?

Canon-5D-Camera-range

Introduction

Back in 2005 Canon was one of the first horses out of  the gate with the 5D;  a full–frame DSLR with a high-resolution 12.8 megapixel sensor and a 3 frames per second continuous shooting.  It was ground breaking at the time because it was affordable, the sensor was the same size as a 35mm SLR image,  and one could use their old full frame lens and not need to purchase additional cropped framed lens.

In 2008 Canon upped the ante on its competitors and came out with the 5D Mark ll.  It featured a  21 megapixel high resolution full-frame sensor and one of the first DSLR to incorporate video capability (HD 1080p video), also a high max ISO 25600, higher capacity battery, and 3.9 frames per second continuous shooting. The 5DMark II quickly became a favourite with professional and armature photographers alike.

As 2012 rolled along, Canon listened to the voices of the 5DMark II shooters and what they wanted in the new 5DMark III.  Their wish list was almost granted.  The new 5DMark III was born with a 22 megapixel full frame CMOS sensor, 6 frames per second continuous shooting, ISO 100-25600 standard and 50-102,800 expanded, better autofocus, 61 point AF system, very snappy operation due to the new Digic5+ processor,  and 100% viewfinder coverage, duel card slots for CF and SD, a very sharp high resolution 3.2” LCD screen, excellent build-quality with magnesium shell and weather sealing, HD 1080p 30 video with stereo sound.

How Much Better Is It?

I did the following exercise to see just how much more detail and how much less noise is captured in low light and high ISO conditions.

stamp

I took a colorful postage stamp on a postcard and proceeded to take photos with all 3 of my Canon 5D series cameras with the same lens:  Canon EF 100mm f2.8  with IS.  I photographed the postcard indoors with a tripod using a setting of  ISO 1600 (one highest settings on the original 5D), f5.6, and a shutter speed of 1/50 sec  .  Below are the results when zoomed way in.

The 5D MKIII is way sharper and has captured more details in true colors  and low levels of color or luminescent noise.

5D-comparision

I feel very reassured in setting my 5D MKIII to a high ISO and expecting sharp, clean, detail.

5d2_detail

 

5d3_detail

My 5D MKIII does not have an underwater housing yet,  but you can see my Canon 5D MK II shooting some underwater action on my recent Whale Shark Swim in Isla Mujeres Mexico  Here ( Youtube)  .  Images from the trip can be seen on my website   here and in recent blog posts.   My 5d MKIII  will travel with me next week to Africa for our upcoming safaris.  I am really looking forward to come great photographic action and enhanced results while photographing lions and leopards at sunset!  Watch this blog for the results .

A Monopod: the Right Camera Support for your Safari

Choosing a support for your camera equipment to use while on safari is important especially if you are bringing large lenses of 300mm – 600mm image stabilization or not.

Over the years I have learned to streamline and keep my photography equipment light and versatile for use on my safari photography workshops in South Africa. For many years I used an aluminum monopod and a homemade mount. It had seen too many safaris and needed to retire. I replaced it with a new monopod  system.

The system is composed of

Really Right Stuff Monopod Head MH-01 and a quick detachable plate for my Canon 5D’s

Gitzo carbon fibre GM2541

monopods

 

The light weight and durability of these products were top criteria for me.  The plate on top is quick and easy to release so I can transition to handheld instantly.  The whole thing is less than 900 grams

I own a nice ball head that will fit on this monopod,  but I can get a great range of movement and angles just by twisting the monopod in my hands. By the way I also prefer a lighter camera without a bunch of bells and whistles that are impossible to use out in the field while the elephants are charging and the light is changing.

Tip:  When shopping for a monopod make sure it will be able to fold short enough to use from a seated position (not too tall)

Support Options for Safaris

For Southern Africa including South Africa and Botswana, the monopod is my best recommendation.  Bean bags work really well in Eastern Africa where the safari vehicles are either enclosed with windows or of the popup roof variety. Some photographers even use mounts that secure a Wimberly head to the window.

These solutions are not at all useful in South Africa where the vehicles are mostly open Land Rovers with no sides and in some places fitted with canvas roofs (required in Kruger National Park). The open vehicles are much more exciting to ride in and afford more unrestricted view as well as allowing riders to see well without standing.

 

safari-monopod-setup

The vehicles do not have room for tripods, so monopods or handheld are the way to go.  With a monopod your camera is supported and you are still able to move about, swivel the camera, and it is pretty easy to adjust the height. With the right mount ranging from a simple swivel with a tightening screw to a fancy ball head, you will be able to move and lock into any position.  Monopods are also handy for when you are on foot and are easy and fairly light to carry or strap to a pack when not in use.

My nice tripod and gimbal head will still travel with me for star photography and interior shots of the lodge

 

see our Current Safari Schedule

Composition in African Wildlife Photography

In this article I describe three typical types of African Wildlife compositions and the features that make them successful.  My goal is to get you planning ahead, analyzing the scene in front of you, and consciously using your knowledge of composition to achieve the best rendering of the exciting animals you will see on safari.

Looking through my catalogue I can put most of my images into three categories images: animal portraits, animals with environment or landscape, and groups of animals

Animal Portraits

These images have one center of interest; the animal. All other elements that can be distracting are eliminated and all the viewer’s attention is on the animal, its textures, and eyes.

Setting the Camera for the Portrait

When setting up for animal portraits try to include the following camera techniques

–       Include an uncluttered background of solid color. The best way to achieve this is by blurring out the background so it is monochromatic and has little texture leaving the subject in sharp focus.

–       Use apertures such as f2.8 f4.0 or f5.6

–       The background should be at least 2 feet behind the subject

African Wildlife photography tips

portrait-2 portrait-5

Use proximity to show details

Placement of the Subject in the Frame

Most portrait subjects will be too large in the frame to worry about Rule of Thirds placement (more on that below). If there is space around the subject, it should be in front of the subject or in the direct that the subject is moving or looking.

Get close and fill the frame – cropping can be done after the fact to add impact if the aspect ratio is not flatter or you just were not sure how to frame the shot.

portrait-6Other Elements that add to the Portrait

Light and shadows enhance interest. Light from the side reveals texture and gives the 3D pop effect. Shadows can play down less important features. Light can create leading lines that help viewers discover all the details of the portrait.

Some external elements can enhance the portrait almost like props: a bit of fresh kill, flies buzzing around the head, a bit of the branch gripped in a talon.

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The mother elephants legs tell the story of  a baby protected and seeking closeness with its mother

African Wildlife photography tips - Photo safari techniquesThe carcass bits in this image add to the portrait explaining the look of bliss on the lion’s face and tail attitude

Animal in its Environment or with a Landscape

The goal here is to show the animal interacting with its environment.  In these images there can be more than one center of attention. The smaller the animal is in the frame, the more importance lies in the composition and its success at getting the viewers attention on the subject

wildlife photography in South Africa

This image not only describes the shape of the young lion, but it’s hunting conditions and challenges.  The eye goes from lion, then up and across the open space.

Place Elements Using Rule of Thirds

Position the subject in one of the strong points of the  Rule of Thirds grid.

environment-2

The subject should be walking, looking, or flying into the centre of the frame. If it is larger than the frame, there should be more space infront than behind it.  As the subject gets smaller the importance of correct placement increases.

africa photography safari and workshop

Lead the Viewer Around the Scene

Leading the viewers eye to the subject,  especially when the subject is smaller relative to the  rest of the image is achieved through careful composition.

Make the subject easy to spot : in contrast to the background

Look for and use leading lines: these are straight or curved lines that lead from a corner or edge of the frame to the subject (rivers, paths, tree branches).

African-wildlife-composition-tips-5

 

environment-1

Present a Story. Begin to think in terms of a still image as a story with  a beginning (where the viewer’s eyes go first), middle  (what they will notice next), and end.  Think about what other elements should be in the image to complete this movement and discovery.

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I have tighter shots of the cubs playing, but this wider shot tells the story of the nice cool rock they chose and the two lionesses closely supervising the surroundings.  

Leave some active space for the subject to move into.  Space also helps tell the story: it leaves the viewer space to use imagination to fill in off camera elements that complete the story . Space is good for anticipating and catching future action: leave the subject room to spring.

buffalo South Africa
buffalo on a misty morning

Light can serve as a leading line drawing a path from the light source to the subject.   The shadows that will result tell us what is not important.  If shaded items are important, consider using HDR techniques or open these areas in postproduction.

environment-6

The wary gaze and heavy step was important here and the angled late afternoon light highlights this. 

Resizing and Cropping is part of the toolbox. Don’t forget about vertical shots and consider how vertical can enhance the composition (emphasizing trees and giraffes).  Cropping can be done after the fact , but adding space back in to improve a composition is much harder so don’t squeeze your animal in a landscape images too much in camera or you will be removing creative flexibility.

You might have the urge to “fill the frame” but this eliminates the ability to do fine adjustments to the crops afterwards.  It also can cause problems when you go to print such as on a wrapped canvas which requires a few inches of non subject on the borders.

Depth and Vanishing points tell a story. Use depth to place story elements such that viewers are drawn into the 3d scene. Depth and the correct lens can create movement, record proportions and distances. An element in the background can make the whole composition more interesting as long as it is part of the story and not a distraction (a lion moving toward the viewer  or shade tree with a carcass  in the background).

African Photo safari

Animal Groups

These images are not tight enough to be portraits and do not show many elements of the environment. The center of interest is the group rather than any particular one animal.

Example of a Animal Group image

pride of lions with juveniles

Combinations of 3’s work well and have a harmonious balance. Symmetry  such as all looking the same direction or each in an opposite direction gives a balanced feel.  Odd numbers, odd shapes, triangles are more visually interesting and should be included.  This is a chance to show different poses and sides of the animal all at the same time (front, ¾, and side view all at once).  Mixing sizes (juveniles and adults) of animals  or species is  interesting content.

white rhino family rests in the shade

See the Negative Space. Negative space is the outline created by subject(s) as if it was viewed as a silhouette. African animals are perfect subjects for their interesting shapes.  Catch poses and groups that are creating an interesting shape and place them against neutral backgrounds for strong compositions.

African Wildlife photography tips

Composition Does not Stop after the Shoot

Once back in front of the computer you can still enhance composition.  The following are all useful tools for furthering your compositional goals.

–       Use creative cropping: You may wish to make several versions of an image each with a different crop.

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–       Use tonal adjustments to enhance the impact of the subject, downplay distractions, and otherwise lead the viewer as you intended through contrast and proper lighting.

–       Use color adjustment in a similar manner to lighting to  announce the subject (perhaps through saturation) and downplay secondary elements (desaturate or limit color variation and texture).

–       Use Blur to fade out distracting detail.

–       Clone or Heal elements that are really distracting and can not be cropped out.

Learn to quickly analyze a scene for story, interesting elements to include, what not to include, textures to highlight, light direction, and movement.  Good composition is mostly achieved in the field as you plan the shot and read the animal, but applying a creative eye after the shoot boosts your shots to the next level

Creative Black and White Treatments

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With the right image, black and white and monochrome effects can take the image to levels more striking and full of impact than color.  African animal portraits are often perfect candidates for experimentation and statement through black and white.

Black and white can envoke the classic and romantic notion of African safaris, but there  are some attributes that make some images better fuel for black and white than others.

Low Color Contrast:  Many animals have coloration that blends them into their surroundings and to be successful they must use this effectively.  An image of a lion in dry grass can be flat, but when treated in black and white, shape and texture that was previously washed out comes to life.

Neutral Color Subject: Elephants and rhino are more or less grayscale naturally and it is hard to make them pop out as a subject when surrounded by flashier colored skies and vegetation.  In monochrome they can stand out.

Animals with texture: Fur detail, skin texture, whiskers, and face features are often more apparent in a black and white. Details lost to our eyes because of color variations are easier to interpret.

Images with color or lighting issues: In many cases images with great composition and content that suffer from some lighting  or severe color cast problems can show better in monochrome.

Below I present 3 creative ways to use monochrome each of which goes beyond the desaturate slider.

Enhanced High Contrast Portrait

This style is characterized by  detail presented in an aged, almost studio style with a historic feel.

Features of this style include:

Portrait style subject with lots of texture and detail

Burnt edges

High contrast subject

Dark textured background

Start with a portrait with a neutral background.  Open in Lightroom Develop Mode.  This technique works easily in PS using layers and masks, but I will work on this in Lightroom.

 

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Crop if your subject’s face needs to be repositioned. Mostly desaturate the image with the Saturation slider and add high contrast using the Tone Curve or the other tone sliders.   We want a dark background so lower the Exposure a little bit and add a pretty large Vignette.

There are a few different ways to darken just the background: Using the Graduated Filter Tool to draw in from each edge toward the middle, or using the Radial Filter Tool  centered over the subject’s face.  Shape it to fit the face so the most possible background is set to dark tones.  On the tool settings, setting Exposure down while keeping Contrast high and Highlights way up will keep some texture in the darkened areas.

high contrast black and white safari image
image after applying a vignette and curve settings

Now we need to finish darkening the background and refine the  “spotlight” onto the subject so it pops.  Use the adjustment brush with a large feathered brush set at a low flow to darken background around the subject.  Decrease the brush size to get in close to the subject while leaving a slight halo effect around.

Click New to start an adjustment brush to brighten the subject.  Paint all over the face and use the sliders to intensify the effect.  Add final touches like a crop, Dodging effect on the eyes and nose and it is finished.  Use Split Toning to add a color tint to the monochrome.

high-contrastfinal

Duo Tone /  Split Tone

A duo tone image is one in which is printed in 2,3, or 4 colors. It is a way to get subtle richness to a monochrome image.  Lightroom supports using two tones (under Split Toning). The control allows you to set one tone for the Highlights and another for the Shadows and then lets you control  the balance between the two.  In Photoshop  the Duotone option lets you choose up to 4 colors.

In Lightroom, desaturate and correct the contrast of the image.  Under Split Toning , select a highlight color or use the Hue slider to set the Highlights. Saturation will control how subtle the effect is.   Next select a color for the Shadows.  Play with the saturation sliders and Balance until you are happy with the results.

duotones in lightroom
applying a duotone in Lightroom – this is overstated so that you can really see what this technique is about – you can make the effect much more subtle or dramatic

In Photoshop, open the tonally corrected image either already in black and white or in color then convert to grayscale.  Make sure the image is in 8bit mode then the option under Image – Mode – Duotone will be available.

In the control box you can browse through  the preset to get ideas or find one you like.  Make your own or begin with a preset and modify it.  To switch to 3 tones or 4 change the value in the Type box.  The curve will control which range of tones is affected.  The possibilities are endless.  When you find one you like you can save it for easy reuse.

using tritones in Photoshop
creating a quad tone combination in Photoshop – Again,  over stated with shocking color choices to demonstrate how it works
quad tone image
Final effect using quadtones with subtle effect  in Photoshop

Hand Tinted Effect

Start with a image and convert it to black and white.  For this technique I prefer a conversion to black and white that is lower contrast.  I like the Lightroom preset called Creamtone” .  It uses a range from a dark in the the gray-green range and a light tone in the beige range.  Open the image for editing in Photoshop to finish the hand tinting.

original

For this effect you will want to use just a few highlight colors applied to areas that are part of the subject.

In Photoshop, create a new layer for each color you will use.  Create the layer and rename it for the color.  You will want to keep the original luminosity fo the image as you add color so a good way to do this is to put each layer in Color blend mode.  This will ensure that you wont get any hard-edged opaque looking patches of color. You might also want to start with each layer at less than 100% opacity. Use the airbrush tool or a soft edged brush at low opacity: you can overpaint to add intensity.  Perfect application is not the style here. Use the eraser if you make a mistake.

For the final balancing you can change opacity, add a saturation layer,  even do a bit of dodge and burn to the color layers.

In the finished image I used one shade of red to color the meat, a bit of pink on the tongue, yellow in the eye, and two shades of green lightly applied to the grass in the foreground.

hand tinted effect
Final hand tinted image

Elephant Images and Stories

Elephants wonderful subjects that are usually at ease around visitors and offer plenty of character which I am happily challenged to capture.  One drawback is that they are not the most colorful creatures, but shapes and textures make up for that.

In Kruger we often enjoy lingering on a scarcely traveled dirt road in the middle of a family herd or close to a watering hole.  I love watching the hierarchy in action and the protection and caution enforced by the senior females.  They truly seem to enjoy simple pleasures such as the daily drink at the watering hole and a choice tree branch.   On the private reserves it is not uncommon to be so close that you can hear them breathing, smell them, and hear them chewing.  Often the herd is spread across the road: you can not see all the members because they have an uncanny ability to hide in the smallest of trees and walk silently but you can hear the destruction of trees.

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Elephants are not shy to go about their business in the presence of the safari vehicle.  Our guides have to be very aware of the attitudes of the herd members and sometimes moves us away if something such as sparing gets out of control.

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Parking at a watering hole is great entertainment: you never know what you might see.  Elephants cautiously approach with the matriarch leading the way.  The young ones are kept close and in the middle of the herd.  They love the water and spray and drink with the babies causing mayhem.  Some seem so young that they do not know how to drink properly.

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This was a great day in Kruger.  The elephants were digging in the dry riverbed to make a mud and water hole.  The mother showed her juvenile how to dig – making him do most of the work while the baby got in the  way and enjoyed all the fun.  Mom got impatient and pushed the kids out of the way so she could drink.  On the other side of the vehicle was a large wallow full of mud and elephants – splendid.

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I have decide that I want a trunk: it is such an amazing appendage and when used by a master such as an elephant it is remarkable what they can do.  Watching them strip bark, fling water, and caress their children evokes respect and wonder.

 

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This is a very old elephant who lives on Thornybush Reserve (our neighbor). He comes very close the vehicle and casually demonstrates how to pick and eat a good lunch.  He was famous for breaking the fence to our reserve and camping out at our marula tree gorging on fruit until he was herded back to his own reserve.  Sadly he has now passed away.

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This is one way to introduce color to a neutral colored elephant!

 

Interesting shapes and texture brings interest to photographs and elephants have it all that.  There is not a boring angle or detail on them.  When they get too close, I like to snap close ups of skin, tusks and eyes.  Elephant hair from their tails was once used to make a traditional  bracelet.

I hope you have been inspired and entertained by my elephant photos and stories:  join me on safari and experience this joy first hand.

In your Safari Bag – do not forget Binoculars

Even with a full bag of long lenses and other camera equipment,  binoculars are still a great thing to have with you on safari

Why Use Binoculars if I have a Camera

I find many benefits to having binoculars with me on safari

I use my binoculars for finding animals as they are easier to maneuver than my rig and they are great for spotting birds and animals hidden in the grass.  Often my camera is clamped down so the freedom of movement of the binoculars is just what I need.  Once I find something with the binoculars and the action begins, then I can get my camera set properly and aimed in the right spot.

During breaks in action, I like to use the binoculars to check the surrounding area and trees for other creatures.  I like to stay on the animal with binoculars watching for signs of some photographable action such as signals the cat is about to stand up.  It is also fun to be the first to notice the hyena sneaking up.

Since you bag is already full with cameras, make your binocular choice one that is worth the weight and space in your bag: A 10 x 42 powered set will be a useful strength with a 10 x 36 pair a nice alternative.

Choosing Binoculars

In general, the higher the power of the binoculars, the narrower the field of view, the less light is taken in by the lenses, and the harder it will be to hold and get a stable image.

This is why 10 x 42 is a good size: anything smaller and your image will be too dark at dusk and dawn lighting and any larger would mean too much weight.

When faced with a choice, go for the widest field of view.

Lens coatings for reflection, anti scratching, and water resistance are essential as is water and fog proofing, good eye piece design, lens caps, and balance in your hands.

Binoculars with Image Stabilization are great for people who can not hold weight steady.

Quality

Like lenses, quality matters.  It will be reflected in the price of the product as well.

There really is a difference between cheap sets and higher priced sets. The differences will be in quality of glass and the quality or absence of the essential lenses coatings that lead to better image.

I have a pair of Nikon Monarch Binoculars.

Nikon Binocular 10 x 42 Monarch 5

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I like these because they are compact and not too heavy.  The multicoated lenses give a beautifully sharp image.

 

 

I bought mine from B&H Photo Video    http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/910864-REG/nikon_7577_10x42_monarch_5.html

A Great Resource for Choosing Binoculars

This site contains reviews and rankings for hundreds of models compares them for different activities ; from sports to birding

http://www.bestbinocularsreviews.com/

 

 

 

Using Lightroom Metadata to Research Best Settings

I use Lightroom  primarily for organization and secondly for quick to medium difficulty adjustments.  My advanced work and preparation for print are still done in PS.  Many times LR  is all I need to select photos, prep them for use on the web, and export them.

With all of these features and with more integration tools, added image adjustment capabilities, and printing options going into the program, it is easy to forget that LR is a database. Like all databases, it is only as good as the data is complete and detailed, but if you manage the detail you can create a powerful learning and efficiency tool.

I am a wildlife photographer and a habitual photographer who photographs in the same location over and over and with the same subjects.  The conditions and sometimes fast action do not leave much time to fuss with settings and adjust.  I do get some chances to experiment, but I want to be in the ball park when I enter the water or get in the game vehicle.  This is where a little extra time in LR  provides me with a valuable learning tool.  I consult it before each trip and keep charts for each camera and lens as a quick cheat sheet based on real data.

Settings, time of image, flash use, and equipment are all recorded in the metadata automatically (make sure you adjust the time on your camera for time zones and daylight savings!) but I also enforce the discipline of  recording the location in detail  (for example: north corner or in canal), the sky and lighting conditions, and for underwater – the visibility.  Next I will try to add tides to that.  I also rate each photo before I do much adjusting to it and I keep all but the really embarrassing shots – at least until my disk gets full.

I have learned some surprising things such as all of my best manatee photographs happened between 9am and 9:30am.  There was a significant drop off in number of quality shots before and after this time and the golden time ranges later as it gets later in the season. This makes sense due to the lengthening of days and the sunrise getting later.  Knowing this, I no longer have to get up before dawn!

Using the Library Filter panel in LR I can use it like a query tool to see a count of images with the keywords I have chosen and combinations of the ISO, flash, rating, etc that I choose.  The tool is not a perfectly flexible query tool but you can be clever with your keywords and how you record data to get it to track and measure what you are interested in.  Maybe improvements to this will make it into a future release.

When I have my manatee workshop next week I will be able to look at the time, weather, and water conditions and recommend settings.  I prepared the following chart using meta data in LR.

7am to 9 am
Cloudy and/or  low visibility ISO 640 F2.8 1/80 – 1/100
Bright and clear visibility ISO 320 F3.2 – f5.0 1/60 – 1/80
9 am – 10 am
Cloudy and/or  low visibility ISO 640 F6.3 1/100
Bright and clear visibility ISO 400 F4.0 – 6.3 1/80 – 1/125
10 am – 11:30 Cloudy and/or  low visibility ISO 500 – 320 F6.3 – 8.0 1/80
Bright and clear visibility ISO 160ISO 250 F7.1 – f8.0F6.3 1/601/250

For use on my safaris, I am using the  data to come up with animal specific settings given lighting conditions.  Of course you can use the histogram on the camera screen and your experience to do the same thing, but many times I cant take the time to analyze and adjust in the field (while cageless with sharks or at a lion hunt) Thus is the nature of wildlife and sports photography.

If you needed another reason to keep you photos organized and properly loaded, taking this “big picture” look at a collection of images of your favorite subject  is very rewarding.

Manatee Photography Tips from my Manatee Photography Workshop

Cinemagraph of a Manatee

 manatee-cinemagraph

My next manatee photography workshop will be in February 2015

Get details

We will be in the water nearly all day with the manatees which gives you plenty of time to practice your techniques and get some really great shots.  Unlike other underwater creatures that are gone in one exposure, manatees are slow and linger. Take advantage of this by planning each shot and doing some in the field analysis and learning from images you just made.

photographing

Getting a Great Shot of a Manatee Up for a Breath

The Situation:

There is a manatee asleep on the bottom near you.  Regulations say that you are not allowed to disturb them – especially diving down to get pictures of them asleep.  They can stay under for 10 minutes which is way to long to hover just underwater and wait. How do you get a good image of them coming up for a breath?

1) Choose a manatee who is facing such that there will be light on its face (not in the shade from a tree) and is preferably not facing such that you will be shooting into the sun.

2) Decide your angle; 3/4  shot, directly on, full side pose, vertical or horizontal camera position.  Scan what will be the background and plan to place undesirable elements like people behind the manatee or out of frame.

3) Get into position and float relaxed. Think about your settings, take test shots, adjust.  Take special note of the view of the sky through the water. The deeper you are the more sky will show. This may not be ideal.

4) When it is time, you will want to force some air out of your lungs which will make you sink a bit (you have already tested this and set your weights correctly). Push water up slowly but firmly with one hand to get you under – Do not move your legs or you will cloud your own picture and possibly freak out the manatee.

5) Watch the manatee. They usually have a “tell” when they are preparing to surface. Their body will rock a bit then begin to rise.  Exhale and sink, snapping pictures and keeping your body still and compact to limit movement.

6) snap shots  while the manatee is on the way up. Watch the framing of your shot to get the whole animal – nose to tail- in the shot.

7) Get a shot as he breaks the surface and takes in air. Then some on the way back down with the ripples on the surface.  The manatee may fall pretty fast.  Sometimes they dont get enough air and go right back up or linger.  Just hold your breath and be still .  Get the shot. You will have 10 minutes to rest and try again.

8) While you wait for the next breath examine your shots. Make a new plan.  Try a different manatee if this one is not in a good spot.

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Look for the Picture within a Picture

I have been playing around with cropping lately and practicing techniques to turn mediocre pictures into great pictures.

This elephant photo in its original form is not a great composition.  I was concentrating on the baby elephant hoping he would do something fun and cute and I didnt really pay attention to the very touching interaction between the large female and the juvenile elephant.

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Some lighting and color correction and a crop with a vignette all completed in Lightroom gives me a very nice portrait with lots of warm fuzzy motherly vib.

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Don’t disregard a photo before examining it closely for details and emotions you did not know were in there.

Four Very Nice Species of Hornbills

Southern Ground Hornbill
Southern Ground Hornbill

On my recent self-drive ride through Kruger National Park, I photographed three types of hornbills: Southern Yellow-billed, Red-billed, and the Grey Hornbill.  Not spotted this day was the ground hornbill.  These birds are frequently seen, except the grey which I see less often.  They like to grab bugs off the roads.  At the lodge they fight their own reflections in the mirror to my horror as I know one day they will break the glass with those tremendous bills.

Yellow Billed Hornbill
Yellow Billed Hornbill
Grey Hornbill
Grey Hornbill

Hornbills have a cooperation with mongoose in that the hornbills eat bugs dug up by the mongoose and in exchange the hornbills warn the mongoose of aerial threats such as raptors  which normally are of no concern to the hornbills.

Red Billed Hornbill
Red Billed Hornbill